Female Emancipation was one of the greatest changes in human history. Only in the last two centuries has progress been made; the right to vote was part of this global process. In the 19th Century Britain was profoundly unequal in terms of class and gender. Women were of inferior status both in society’s views and legally, and their role was to marry and have children. On marriage they promised to serve their husband and a woman’s property became her husband’s. (Until late 1880, they had absolutely no rights over their property or children. )
Around the turn of the century, groups such as the Suffragists and Suffragettes started up, championing the right for women to vote, which in turn would help female candidates run for a position in parliament. This was the state of Britains social hierachy. The matter of why women failed to gain the right to vote in the years leading up to the first world war is quite a complicated issue. With all the huge campaigns lead by the Suffragists and Suffragettes there are a number of key points to understand. First of all, the vote was very exclusive at this period of time, even all men did not have it.
Only homeowners in full-time employment were allowed to vote, which limited the vote to virtually the upper-middle and upper clases, and the lucky workers. Then there were the traditional views on women in general; they were seen as practically “second class” citizens of the country. Only in 1870 had education up to the age of 11 become free and compulsory for girls. (For boys it was earlier) Women had only just won the right to vote and run in local government elections. Most people felt the womans place was in the home raising children.
Young girls who wanted to go on to higher education instead of marrying at the age of 16 were generally looked upon with disgust. They were seen as abnormal. It is easy to see that in a male-dominated country with an all-male government and cabinet it was an almost impossible task to win the franchise, or so it seemed. The Suffrage movement was increasing constantly, however compared to the nations population, the members of the various groups seemed very small. Many men did not want women to gain the vote for the long term reasons stated earlier, and even many women felt that they did not need the vote.
It is hard to understand, but the whole mentality of British society was so deeply set in traditional thought that bringing about a change of such proportions was an immensly difficult task. Some people even started up Anti-Suffrage movements. The Suffrage groups started putting massive amounts of pressure on the government, which was for most of the duration run by the Liberal Party. (Lead by Lloyd Asquith after 1908. ) Hopes were high for a women suffrage when the Liberals came to power in 1906, because their policies were based on equality, although women’s suffrage was not on their manifesto.
Asquith, however, was against the right to vote for women. All the women’s suffrage groups had intensified their campaigns when the Liberal Party was elected, and they had a high level of support. The Suffragettes were the smaller of the two largest groups, but were by far the most publicised. They believed in “Deeds not Words”, and were a more militant group than the larger and more respectful “Suffragists”. The Suffragettes were growing impatient and started intensifying their campaigns, growing more and more violent.
Incidents involving stoning and heckling MP’s, confronting authorities, getting fined and not paying; leading to imprisonment
This caused intense dislike towards them, and caused splits within the group itself. A free vote showed that the Parliament was overall for women to have the vote, as long as an adult male suffrage was introduced aswell. This was so all the working class males would be allowed to vote which would be an adcantage to them, so the increase in upper class people voting (women) would not hurt their chances of becoming re-elected. They also did not want to be seen as giving in to what was literally terrorism.
The government also had greater issues to deal with, such as the crisis in Ireland, and the threat of War with Germany. Compared to these issues, the womens demonstrations and attacks seemed a minor problem. In 1914, The First World War had begun. This was the first total war, which required the whole nations contribution. The Suffragettes and other groups called off their protests and volunteered to help the government in the war effort. They had failed to win the right to vote, at least in the years between 1900 and 1914.